In his home state of California, Kyle Larson turned in his best overall NASCAR performance of his brief stock car career at Auto Club Speedway. After the jumble that was the green-white-checkered finish on Sunday, even Larson tweeted out to fans “I’m still trying to figure out how I got to second.” Nevertheless, it should be to no one’s surprise that a win at the highest level is within reach so soon.Kyle Larson, one of NASCAR’s newest stars, has started to heat up his rookie season.
Ever since he started racing, at the age of seven Larson has shown the knack for picking up on the ins and outs about how a variety of versatile machines handle fairly rapidly upon entering a new level of competition. He first began gaining national attention competing and winning on USAC midgets, Silver Crown, and World of Outlaws Sprint Car circuits as a teenager.
In 2012, Larson turned to stock cars, where he won in his very first start in a Super Late Model at New Smyrna Speedway. Later that year, he was being crowned a champion in the NASCAR K&N Pro East Series after just his first full season. The following year, he came close to winning at the Nationwide Series level and won in only his fifth Camping World Truck Series start. Larson has accomplished all of this stuff, running a stock car in just a little more than two years. The peak came at Fontana, Larson’s second-place effort backing up his first career Nationwide win from the day before. To do it, he outlasted Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, two of the sport’s top stars in a nail-biting 16 laps of green-flag competition.
“It’s been a really good weekend,” said Larson Sunday. “I guess you couldn’t ask for more.”
It has been the foundation laid over those early years that has led to such quick success. It is very reminiscent to the rise to fame that many current and future Hall of Famers, like a Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart have taken before him. Maybe Larson didn’t turn the heads of NASCAR’s followers at as young of an age, compared to some that have excelled lately on their way up the ladder, but statistics like his certainly do not come around very often. On the other hand, there are many competitors of all ages that are putting up similar numbers on short tracks every year without getting the same recognition or opportunity. It has been that way for years, but seems to have been pushed to the forefront more recently for many fans. Perhaps Larson backing up his opportunity with talent will result in a throwback of sorts to teams bringing drivers up the ranks based on what they can do behind the wheel, not necessarily based on what money or sponsorship their family or they individually can bring to a development deal.
It has been pretty clear that Larson has not been able to bring an immense amount of financial backing, seemingly getting a different primary sponsor supporting him each step of the way. But it is what he gets done on the track that has given Larson the “Young Money” nickname. It is commendable to everyone that has given him that chance, and it needs to be seen more often from the grassroots all the way to the top.
There is too much emphasis being placed on what can be done to maximize exposure and profit, at this very moment during the sport’s modern era. That not only goes for NASCAR, along with other forms of motorsports, but it can be seen in the business world in general. As a result, that factor ultimately has an effect on who is chosen to represent companies in terms of sponsorship. The downside about that philosophy is, if that “chosen one” does not perform successfully, the organization they drive for could begin to suffer and the costs to support the driver can rise. What will happen in the future to a team that is so invested in a driver that decides to move on, paired with their sponsor that has been joined at the hip following suit? The organization may be left in shambles, forced to suspend operations or even close up shop. It’s a downside worth pondering as “pay to play” becomes an ever larger part of NASCAR’s future.
Going back to viewing things from a racing mentality, if a team looks at the big picture and sees a driver’s long-term potential, not his sponsorship connections, it will increase the odds of keeping them viable for years to come. It’s still OK to sell results to sponsors, in this case instead of potential drivers selling sponsors to you. I believe this ideal is what Chip Ganassi sees in someone like Kyle Larson. From a business perspective, it’s what Rick Hendrick saw in Jeff Gordon and what Joe Gibbs saw in Tony Stewart. Unfortunately, for every one of these prodigies, there are probably at least ten more with talent that are being overlooked.
In some ways, it’s an unstoppable nature in motorsports. The almighty dollar causes more decisions to be made, especially in racing compared to a vast majority of competitive sports.
It still remains to be seen where Kyle Larson can take this success to and for how long it will last, but let’s just take a look back at this past weekend, be reminded about what we are seeing in front of us right now, and think about what else can be done in order to see more fascinating racers keep getting recognized based on their accomplishments.
About the author
A former contributor to SBNation, Aaron handles marketing on the short track level and can be seen at a different local bullring virtually every weekend over the spring and summer, working with teams in various capacities. He’s a native of central Pennsylvania.
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